Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Astrology and chronology ... that's what killed Mike Lieberthal.
Well, the "Mike Lieberthal Era" in Philly, anyway.
His "time served" (keen prison term) as a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies (1994 thru 2006) was completely the wrong time to be a Phillie veteran -- that is, unless you happened to be a Phillie veteran soon to be heading out of town, a la Scott Rolen or Curt Schilling.

But, for the sake of comparison, let's see how Lieby didn't stack up against his frat brothers in the Phillie-catcher brethren.
He wasn't "Mr. Popularity" behind the dish as Andy Seminick was for the '50 Whiz Kids ... or "Mr. Wily Veteran/Lefty's Caddy" as Tim McCarver was in the '70s ... or "Mr. Steady" (with the capacity to create MLB offspring) as Bob Boone was for the '80 Phils ... or "Mr. Lovable Scrapper" as Bo Diaz was for the '83 Phils ... or "Mr. Dreamboat" (with the centerfold wife/ex-wife) as Darren Daulton was for the '93 Phils ...
Hence, when you're a catcher playin' for the '94-'06 Phillies (no postseason appearances in those 12 complete, non-strike seasons), well, all anyone from beyond Philly knows is that you're some stiff behind the dish named "Loserthal."
Which is an unfair, but underestandable, assessment.

Now, if the reports are true (and why wouldn't they be? We're talking about the the Hot Stove League, not re-exploring the events which led to the Tet Offensive or the exploring potential malfeasance and subsequent cover-up within the Nova Scotian legislature), Lieby has signed with his hometown L.A. Dodgers joining fellow L.A.-boy Randy Wolf, who, recently, was given wayyyyyy too much $$$ to sign with his hometown Dodgers.
So, this is the final stop (it appears) for Lieby and Wolfie ... a couple of single guys, two rabble rousers just itchin' to rip up Chavez Ravine ... as Vin Scully hands out free books of Union Oil AutoScript (which was the Union 76 giveaway back in the day when the little Pitchfork was a SoCal and Joe Ferguson or Jimmy Wynn would go yard, even though "go yard" wasn't part of the nomenclature 'til the mid- to late-'80s, so screw you, Ron Cey).

For Philly, losin' Lieby and Wolfie ... well, that might stir up the faction of pro-Wolf rowdies who wore the Halloween wolf masks to flaunt their membership in The Vet/The Cit-endorsed gatherings of "The Wolf Pack," but it won't have much of an impact on the 13 people who actually own a #24 LIEBERTHAL uniform top (a shirt which will forever remain in the closet).
Wolfie's gone? Well, OK ... but other than his big All-Star campaign of '03 (16-10), a "promising" season from Wolfie was usually something where the wolf-masked boys were hoping for 12-10.
For anyone who thought that maybe Wolf didn't live up to his quote-unquote "potential," those people need to close their eyes any time that anything visual pertaining to the hideous-to-look-at Bill Conlin comes into view.
That means: Don't look at him; don't look at what he writes.
In either case, it'll burn your retina and could cause cataracts.
Or didja forget when Wolfie was 5-0 / 3.33 in the first eight starts of his career (1999), Conlin wrote that Wolf had "Whitey Ford stuff"?
Wolf then took his Wenty Ford stuff and went 0-8 / 6.90 in his next 10 starts (apologies to those who were a fan of the late Wenty Ford, one of the Bahamas' truly great pitchers, although big-hittin' Ed Armbrister always got the headlines).

Well, with a fresh start in the ballpark at the end of the Sunset Strip, Wolfie won't have to worry about Philly boobirds when he's completing his warmup tosses for his mid-August start as the DiamondVision displays his stats:
"4-7 / 5.88."

Unlike Wolfie from El Camino Real High in "The Valley," Lieby was your typical Westlake Warrior who, if the school hadn't opened in 1978, might've joined the likes of MLB superstars from Thousand Oaks High such as Chuck Crim (A.L. leader in appearances in '88 and '89), Kurt Stillwell (No. 2 overall pick of the Reds in '86; A.L. All-Star in '88), Jack Wilson (delicious fielder, '04 NL All-Star SS) and Kurt Russell (yup, that Kurt Russell ... Disney's former child movie star who messed up his rotator cuff in the minors before he dazzled us with his roles as Snake Plisken, Wyatt Earp, Captain Ron and Herb Brooks, not to mention the soldier-rific soldier "Todd" in the fan-fave "Soldier").

Unfortunately, the tagline "former TOHS Lancer great" is just another item in the long list of "Things That Mike Lieberthal ISN'T." In fact, it could be argued that either Lieberthal or Del Ennis is battin' cleanup in the lineup of all-time "under-appreciated Phillies" (Ron Reed is warming up in the 'pen for those under-appreciated Phils).
Maybe it's because there was never a Mrs. Lieberthal for the Philly freaks to heckle in public.
Phillie fanatics seemed to lose interest in Lieby's place in the Phillie cosmos once mgr. Manuel Labor made Mike merely one of the four x-factors in the Phillies' 4-headed catching equation last season:
......................... AB ... HR .. RBI .. AVG
Lieberthal .. 209 .. 9 .. 36 . .273
Coste ............ 198 ... 7 .. 32 . .328
Ruiz ............... 69 ... 3 ... 10 . .261
Fasano ......... 140 ... 4 .. 10 . .243

The sum total for that brilliant master stroke by Manuel Labor translated to 23 HRs, 88 RBI, .283 avg. in 616 ABs -- meaning that the sum was greater than the parts.
And, if Chris Coste comes out and hits .226 next season, it'll get ugly watching the fans turn on him for being a 34-year-old, Todd Pratt-wanna-be rather than the delightful, 33-year-old-rookie/feel-good sensation of '06.

Despite his above-average abilities, Lieberthal was always doubted by Philly, right from the day that the organization made him the third player selected in the '90 draft (behind Chipper Jones and Tony Clark, but ahead of Alex Fernandez at No. 4, Carl Everett at No. 10, Jeromy Burnitz at No. 17, Mike Mussina at No. 20, Steve Karsay at No. 22, Rondell White at No. 24 and Chris Weinke at No. 46).
The head-scratchin' began immediately re: the scrawny, 165-lb.er from SoCal. And, five minor-league seasons of mediocre offensive stats did nothing to win the hearts n' minds of the Phillie faithful, given the fact that most minor-league batboys had better power numbers than Lieby.
To wit:
4 HR in 184 AB at Martinsville in '90
0 HR in 295 AB at Clearwater and Spartanburg in '91
0 HR in 354 AB at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Reading in '92
7 HR in 382 AB at SWB in '93
1 HR in 296 AB at SWB in '94

12 homers in 1,511 minor-league ABs wouldn't have been so bad, but when paltry power numbers are twinned with a not-too-impressive .263 BA, well ... Mike Lieberthal wasn't exactly laying the foundation as a prototypical "everyday catcher."
Phillie fanatics spent five years pondering whether Lieby was perhaps the second coming of catcher Lebo Powell (the Phils' No. 1 pick in '80 ... Daulton was taken in the 25th round that year) or possibly another Trey McCall, the catcher from Abingdon, Va. who was the Phils' No. 1 pick in '85.
Lebo Powell and Trey McCall ... just yping their names evokes chuckles.

It was sometime during '91 -- during Lieby's second year in the minors -- when this Pitchfork was conducting a phone interview with then-Expos head scout Gary Hughes, who, at the time, was regarded as having one of the keenest eyes for talent in the MLB.
When it was suggested that "this Lieberthal kid looks too scrawny," Hughes was quick with an assurance.
"Oh, you're going to like Lieberthal."

Gary might've instilled a little more optimism in this Pitchfork's heart if he hadn't alluded to his organization's own catchers, Nelson Santovenia and Gilberto Reyes, as some sort of "budding stars" in the 'Spos' catching paradigm.
Oddly enough, Lieberthal became the everyday catcher the season ('97) after Benito Santiago's one semi-monster year in Philly ... the same season that catcher-turned-outfielder-soon-to-turn-first-baseman Daulton was traded to Florida.
Again ... bad timing. A 30-homer catcher was allowed to go via free agency and Capt. Handsome, the popular catcher-turned-outfielder, was about to be dealt.
On top of that, during Lieberthal's rookie season ('94), ex-Phillie catcher Darrin Fletcher was having an All-Star season in Montreal.
Lieberthal looked like nuthin' more than a Steve Lake/Tom Nieto hybrid.

Even after he'd gotten his feet wet during his first three season ('94-'96), Lieby's personal purgatory was only beginning.
Four seasons ('97-'00) of last-place misery under Francona followed by five years ('01-'05) of wild-card-near-misses when the headliners in Philly were the volatile manager (Bowa), flashy free-agents (Jim Thome, Jose Mesa), big-time trades (Schilling, Rolen), the buzz of a new ballpark and the emergence of superstars such as Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
Even if he wasn't always healthy through those nine years, Lieberthal was surprisingly steady.
As they say about so-so quarterbacks, Lieby seemed to "manage the game."
He had those two all-star seasons ('99 and '00), but without a single playoff game to his credit, his place in Phillie lore might always remain in that no-man's land between mysterious enigma and Phorgettable Phillie.
Argument: He was good.
Counter-argument: But not Bob Boone good.

So, when digging around for "Mike Lieberthal's Greatest Hits" to put up on the JumboTron at The Cit for a "Mike Lieberthal Day" when the Dodgers come to town, errrrrr .... WAIT A DOGGONE MINUTE, MISTER!
There ain't gonna be a "Mike Lieberthal Day."
Philly saves such occasions for Darren Daulton, who, for the first 12 of his 17.5 years ('80-'97) as a Phillie, was a frequently banged-up, lucky-to-hit-.220 catcher -- which, when you get right down to it, makes ya cringe to admit that you were there with 44,000 others in June '98 for "Darren Daulton Night" with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in town.
Of course, on a night with so much electricity, the Phillies' guy behind the dish that night was the appears-to-be-super-'roided-out Bobby Estalella.
And Bob E. went 0 for 3 with three K's (of course).
It was Lieby's big chance to hit three homers and to make a statement that there was a new sheriff in town, alas ... it's always about the "other" catcher in Philly.

Despite the way that Philly probably screwed Lieby, this Haystack has compiled a Lieby Top 5 which'll never be shown on any Jumbo Trons/Diamond Visions:

June 16, 1998 -- Trailing the Pirates, 7-1 going to the bottom of the 9th, the Phils scratched across four runs (single, triple, 2 walks, E-6, sac fly, forceout, walk) to make the score 7-5 when Lieby was summoned to PH for rookie pitcher Robert Dodd, who'd worked the top of the 9th during mop-up duty.
Lieby connected on a 2-2 pitch from reliever Rich Loiselle for a 3-run walk-off HR, setting off a celebration and giving Dodd, in only his fourth game, his only MLB win.
It was the last game Dodd pitched in The Show.

May 19, 1999 -- Down 4-3 top of the third with 5,000-plus fans at the Stade Olympique in Montreal, Lieby connected off Dustin Hermanson for a 2-run shot to put the Phils up, 5-4. With the score tied, 5-5, in the top of the fifth, Lieby touched up Hermanson for a grand slam and a 9-5 lead.
The Phils, though, lost, 10-9, when Jeff Brantley gave up four runs in the bottom of the 9th. Brantley, who'd saved four games in the first week of the season, went on the DL for the rest of the year a few days after this blown save which probably cost the Phillies the pennant.

Aug. 18, 1997 -- In a scoreless game in the third inning, Lieby came up with the bases loaded against the Giants' Mark Gardner, but popped out weakly. That brought to the plate Billy McMillon, the youngster acquired from Florida for Daulton one month earlier -- and, in his second AB as a Phillie, Billy Mac hit a grand slam down the right-field line.
With a 6-2 lead in the 6th, Lieby came up again with the bases loaded and faced his ex-teammate, Terry Mulholland. This time, Lieby delivered the grand salami which, basically, ended Mulholland's career (even though Terry did pitch for nine more seasons for 38 different teams).
Billy McMillon played in 23 more games for the Phillies in '97 ... but those were his last. Eventually, Billy McMillon became another in the long line of "Let's Trade Somebody Just For The Sake Of Trading Somebody And Let's Get Little Value In Return Because, Dammit, Darren Daulton Deserves A World Series Ring."
(See how The Salute To Mike Lieberthal becomes a forum for front-office bloopers, blunders and practical jokes?)

June 5, 1997 -- Trailing, 8-5, in the bottom of the 9th against Cubs closer Mel Rojas, Lieby jacks a 3-run bomb to tie the game, 8-8. The Phils win, 9-8, in the bottom of the 10th on an RBI single by eventual Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen.
Two months into his career as "Phillies' everyday catcher," Lieby entered the game with a .177 average, batting only .127 in May. However, Lieby began to show signs of life with the stick, hitting .261 in June and opening some eyes in July by leading all N.L.'ers with a .400 BA.
He'd tail off at the end, though, finishing at .246 for the season.

June 6, 1999 -- Some of us were at this game at Oriole Park when Lieby came to bat in a 7-7 game in the top of the 7th and connected for a 2-run HR off of Ricky Bones. In the top of the 9th, the Phils were up, 9-7, when Lieby took Rocky Coppinger deep for a solo shot.
Lieby went 4 for 5 that day with his 2 HRs, 2 doubles and 4 ribbies. It capped the best 5-game stretch of his MLB life (he might've had bigger days in the spring of '90 against the likes of Agoura or Rio Mesa or the always-dangerous Royal Highlanders) in which he went 11 for 23 with 4 doubles, 4 homers and 13 ribbies.
The 5-game explosion lifted Lieby's average to .350 ... he finished right at .300 for the season ...

Oct. 3, 1999 -- ... and he finished at .300 because after we saw him ground out leading off the bottom of the second, those of us at this game (the season finale) noticed that Francona replaced Lieby with Bobby Estalella in the top of the third.
Wolfie left his fingerprints all over this one, serving up a 7,000-foot HR to Vlad Guerrero as the Expos stormed out to a 5-0 lead.
The Phils -- with many players wearing different caps from different eras of baseball in Philly (you don't forget when a gamer such as Rico Brogna is taken out of the game and replaced by Torey Lovullo) -- scored 4 times in the bottom of the 8th to win, 6-5, a rally capped by Alex Arias' 2-run single against Ugueth Urbina (a rally which ended with an unforgettable Torey Lovullo foul out to third).
Steve Montgomery -- yeah, that Steve Montgomery -- struck out the side in the top of the 9th, mowing down household names Trace Coquillette, Wilton Guerrero, Ryan McGuire to make a winning pitcher of Cliff Politte (1-0, 7.13 ERA in 13 gams of Phils in '99).
As fate would have it, the '99 finale was the final game at Vet with Astro Turf as the playing field was resurfaced with NexTurf, thus eliminating those lovable seams and bare spots for bad-hop grounders and ripped-up knees.
For the record, Lieby finished with 30 HR, 96 ribs, .300 (and he was later named the NL's Gold Glove catcher).
With four more RBI, though, Lieby could have reached an echelon that few MLB catchers have -- 30 / 100 / .300.
Piazza did it six times; Campanella did it three times; Bench, Berra, Fisk and Pepsodent Carter never did it; Bill Dickey just missed in 1927 and 1938; Fisk fell a few homers shy in 1972; Yogi Berra narrolwly missed in 1956 (.298); Rudy York just missed in 1938 (.298) ...

Sept. 28, 2003 -- In the final game at The Vet, the Phils trailed Atlanta, 5-2, with three outs to go and with Lieby leading off the bottom of the 9th. Unable to connect for a walk-off, 6-run homer with the bases empty, Lieby grounded out to first baseman Robert Fick, who flipped to pitcher Jason Marquis covering.
Funny thing about Robert Fick: He's a Newbury Park High grad whose Panthers likely played a game or two in his prep lifetime against Lieberthal's Westlake Warriors.
Fick, who was a soph. at NP when Lieby was a senior at The 'Lake, was a 45th-round selection, as a catcher, of the A's in the '92 draft. After an illustrious career (we assume) at Cal State-Northridge, Fick's stature grew ... and the Tigers took him in the 5th round of the '96 draft.
Funny thing about Fick playing in the final game at The Vet ... because four years earlier (in '99), Fick played in the final game at Tiger Stadium. When he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth and the Tigers leading, 4-2, Fick settled into the batter's box as Ernie Harwell informed his radio audience that Fick was batting .217 with 2 homers.
Fick then whalloped/clouted (as they said at Tiger games in the '50s and '60s) a grand slam off of K.C.'s Jeff Montgomery.
Montgomery, an A.L. All-Star in '92, '93 and '96 (and the A.L. Rolaids Relief Fireman of the Year w/ 45 saves in '93) pitched one more game in the bigs ... and then he was done.

HOLD THE PHONE! How did this, "The All-Star Salute To The All-American Hero, Mike Lieberthal" de-evolve into "The Steve Montgomery / Jeff Montgomery Retrospective"?
And who gives a flyin' Fick about mother-Fick-in' Robert Fick and his Fick-in' Newbury Park ways?
Robert Fick was never chosen to play Todd in "Soldier" ...

Perhaps what we just saw was an attempt to take some of the sting out of a sad farewell to The Vet. The boobirds who maybe didn't migrate from The Vet to The Cit probably gave Mike an earful when, after hitting 2 homers and driving in 4 in a 7-3 win over Cincy, the team went 1-7 to end '03.
Lieby went 4-28 as his season average dipped from .323 to .313.

None of us probably ever knew what to make of Mike Lieberthal ... never knew what made him tick. For those who thought he was clean cut, everybody else thought he was too clean cut.
What 's his role? we wondered. Is he 'sposed to hit for average -- or for power?
When we saw him on TV the night he ripped up his knee in '01, we couldn't forget how, only seconds earlier, we'd seen him smiling and exchanging pleasant conversation with everybody's best buddy/chain-smoker, D'Backs first baseman Mark Grace.
As Lieby was helped off the field, we couldn't help but scold the images on the TV screen: "If you'da had yer head in the game instedda makin' nice and playin' paddycakes with Grace, maybe you'dda been paying attention and not shredded your knee, ya farging bastage."

So, no, City of Brotherly Loathe ... the biggest news of the off-season is not the coaching-staff additions of ex-mgrs. Davey Lopes, Art Howe and Jimy Williams.
It's the loss of Lieberthal.
And, judging from recent Phillie drafts, there is no catching talent "down on the farm" -- which means a season of keeping our fingers crossed that Coste/Ruiz doesn't brick out to a 2-headed, .234-hittin' nightmare (or that the Phils don't have to trade for a Todd Pratt/Mark Parent equivalent).

And, even though he never single-handedly got the Phillies to the playoffs and then single-handedly won a World Series or two, let's just see where/when Lieby lands on Phillies Wall of Fame:
1978 -- Robin Roberts ... 1979 -- Richie Ashburn ... 1980 -- Chuck Klein ... 1981 -- Grover Cleveland Alexander ... 1982 -- Del Ennis ... 1983 -- (none) ... 1984 -- Jim Bunning ... 1985 -- Ed Delahanty ... 1986 -- Cy Williams ... 1987 -- Granny Hamner ... 1988 -- Paul Owens ... 1989 -- Steve Carlton ... 1990 -- Mike Schmidt ... 1991 -- Larry Bowa ... 1992 -- Chris Short ... 1993 -- Curt Simmons ... 1994 -- Dick Allen ... 1995 -- Willie Jones ... 1996 -- Sam Thompson ... 1997 -- Johnny Callison ... 1998 -- Greg Luzinski ... 1999 -- Tug McGraw ... 2000 -- Gavvy Cravath ... 2001 -- Garry Maddox ... 2002 -- Tony Taylor ... 2003 -- Sherry Magee ... 2004 -- Billy Hamilton ... 2005 -- Bob Boone ... 2006 -- Dallas Green ...

Should this not be a matter of "when" not "if" for Lieby?
"You want me on that Wall! You need me on that Wall!"

UPDATE -- This just in from the Haystack ActionNews Chopper ... on the same day that Lieby is headin' for L.A., it appears as though "The Babysitting Nightmare That Is Gavin Floyd" is now dead in the water.
The Phils traded him and somebody named Gio Gonzalez to the Chisox for Freddy Garcia, it seems.
With the money freed up from the dumping of Abreu ($13 mil), Wolf ($9 mil) and Lieberthal ($7 mil), apparently asst. GM/biology major Ruben Amaro, Jr. and the braintrust might try to assemble a pitching staff.
Are we saying that a rotation of Myers-Garcia-Moyer-Lieber-Hamels is good enough to contend?
Mayyyy-beee ...
Wait ... is Lieber still around?
Is Adam Eaton the No. 4 starter?
Is Ryan Franklin still failing drug tests?
Has Jason Grimsley been incarcerated?
Is Brad Brink still on the blink?

Freddy Garcia had some real highlights during his 8 years in The MLB. 17-8 as a Mariners rookie in '99 ... he was lights-out for the M's in the '00 playoffs vs. the Yankees (2-0, 1.54 ERA) and then went 18-6 for the 116-46/postseason-flop M's of '01 ... before going 14-8 and 17-9 for the past two Chisox teams (sandwiched around two super postseason starts for the World Champs).
It's almost too good to be true ... getting an establish pitching star for a sack o' crap (Floyd), who, they say, lost faith in his ability to throw a curveball.
Although Gav's record was 5-5 in 15 starts in '05 and '06, that 8.18 ERA was ungodly.
It's sometimes fun to walk around town and tell everybody that the Phillies squandered the No. 4 overall pick in the '01 draft on Gav when Texas used the No. 5 pick to take Mark Teixeira (who, like Floyd, is a Severna Park native and proud Mount St. Joseph alum).

In a final note: ESPN contributor Tim Kurkjian (who needs more air time in order to offset the daffiness of Goofy Gammons) remarked the other day that the player who, so far, has received the most-ridiculously-undeserved pile of $$$ during this Hot Stove season is the Phils' newly-acquired Adam Eaton.
Of course, it was the Texas Strangers who got the ball rolling in the overspending, doling out almost $5-mil per for a pitcher who went 22-19 during his final two years in S.D. ('04 and '05).
Then, he makes 13 starts for the Strangers, goes 7-4 with a too-high ERA ... and now he's back with the organization which raised him from a pup.
When he ends up with a 14-5 record in '07, people are gonna eat their words.
C'mon ... he has Catfish Hunter stuff ...

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